Oliver Brothers, the oldest art restoration firm in the country, has been making paintings beautiful again since 1850.
Over that time, the firm has taken in paintings by Rembrandt, Degas and Cezanne — as well as Andy Warhol, Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer — then returned them to their owners looking good as new.
Recently, the firm moved from Boston to Beverly.
“There are two main aspects to restoration: the structural aspect of the painting and the appearance of the painting,” said Peter Tysver, chief restorer at Oliver Brothers. “Both of these are usually compromised by age.”
Paintings dim with the years because their surfaces get dirty, or the coat of varnish that protects the paint deteriorates.
“The older varnishes were made with organic resins, which turn yellow over a period of time,” Tysver said. “So those are removed to get back to the original color.”
Structural damage occurs when canvas decays, or as the layers of a painting expand and contract with changes in the atmosphere. Those layers include sizing, a kind of glue that strengthens cloth and a coating of gesso, the white ground on which an artist paints.
“In the beginning, when the painting is new, the paint layer is flexible and there isn’t a problem,” Tysver said. “But when the paint layer gets older, it becomes brittle, and when the movement happens underneath the paint, it makes cracks.”
Many of these problems are fixed using a press that was invented by George Taylor Oliver, grandson of James Oliver, the Scottish immigrant who originally founded the firm in New York.
The pressure that smooths paint buckling around cracks, and also fixes a reinforcing liner to the back of the canvas, is created by suction.
“When it goes into the press, it gets sandwiched between these pieces of silicon-coated white craft paper,” said Greg Bishop, who co-owns Oliver Brothers with Tysver. “The vacuum sucks the air out, therefore forcing the adhesive.”